Maryland’s largest university may also be the state’s best investment, integral to both its economy and its future.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article appears in the 2022 issue of Achiever Magazine.
By Chip Cassano
Many adult learners first encounter University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) overseas—where it serves a largely military population—or in cyberspace, via online advertising or social media. This global footprint, though, belongs to a public university that has been firmly rooted in Maryland from the start and remains central to the state’s university system, academic goals, and economy.
DESIGNED TO BE DIFFERENT
That commitment dates to 1947, when UMGC was founded as a program within the University of Maryland College of Education, largely to serve the needs of American GIs returning to civilian life following the Second World War. To do so, it was necessary to expand the geographic boundaries of Maryland higher education, meeting students where they lived and worked.
More than 1,900 students enrolled that first year alone, taking courses at military, civilian, and corporate sites across Maryland.
Two years later, in 1949, the fledgling institution was alone in answering the call when the U.S. Department of Defense asked American schools to explore offering courses to American servicemembers stationed in postwar Europe. With just one week’s notice, seven professors flew to Germany to teach. In 1951, a North Atlantic Division was added, offering courses at military sites in Newfoundland and Labrador, and later Greenland and Iceland. In 1956, the program expanded to Asia, and in 2005, to North Africa and the Middle East.
THE STATE IS OUR CAMPUS
While UMGC’s overseas program was groundbreaking and grew quickly—garnering headlines in major publications like TIME, Newsweek, the New York Times, and Reader’s Digest, and even drawing attention and praise from a series of sitting U.S. presidents—the university never lost sight of its Maryland roots.
In 1951, it adopted the motto, “The State Is Our Campus,” staffing classrooms at sites that were convenient to adult and military students—students whose lives and responsibilities made it impractical or impossible for them to attend traditional college courses.
The list of UMGC locations in Maryland and neighboring states soon read like an encyclopedia of state, government, and military landmarks. Classroom locations included the Pentagon, in Arlington; Bolling Air Force Base, in the District of Columbia; the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent; the Glenn L. Martin Company, an aircraft and aerospace manufacturer in Baltimore (later part of Martin Marietta); the Holabird Signal Depot; the Bureau of Ships; the Bureau of Aeronautics; the Calvert Distillers Corporation (later acquired by Seagram); the Naval Research and Naval Ordnance laboratories; the Rustless Iron and Steel Corporation, also in Baltimore; Aberdeen Proving Ground; the Army Chemical Center at Edgewood; the U.S. Naval Academy Graduate Program in Annapolis; the outlying communities of Cambridge, Cumberland, Hagerstown, Salisbury, and Westminster; and even the Maryland State Penitentiary.
AN ACADEMIC AND ECONOMIC FORCE IN MARYLAND
Today, UMGC serves some 90,000 students annually, and 33 percent of all degrees granted by University System of Maryland (USM) schools are conferred by UMGC. In FY2021 alone, 34,000 Marylanders took courses from UMGC and 5,600 completed a credential.
This is vital if the state is to reach its degree attainment goal of 55 percent, and other factors combine to amplify the impact on the state’s workforce and economy.
First and foremost, UMGC emphasizes workforce-relevant education, prioritizing disciplines with high employer demand and earning potential, as well as identified skills gaps. (Currently, it ranks #1 in Maryland in the number of cybersecurity and information technology degrees conferred, and #2 and #3 respectively in biotechnology and nursing degrees conferred.) It partners and consults with businesses to ensure that its learning experiences foster the knowledge, skills, abilities, and dispositions (KSADs) that employers need. And it is expanding its offerings to include skill-building and noncredit coursework, stackable certificates, and prior learning assessment to broaden the learning pathways available to employers and employees alike.
Second, the university is intentional in welcoming and supporting students from populations that have been historically underserved and underrepresented in higher education. Student surveys reveal that 57 percent of current undergraduates are first-generation college students, more than half are from minority populations, and 44 percent have dependent children. The institution ranks #1 in Maryland in cybersecurity and information technology degrees conferred to women and students of color.
A third factor—affordability—also figures into the equation. Not only are UMGC’s in-state tuition and fees the second-lowest among four-year Maryland public institutions, but the university grants credit for prior learning and has adopted liberal transfer-credit policies, which together serve to reduce out-of-pocket costs for students, shorten time-to-degree, and increase degree completion rates. These policies have drawn national recognition, with U.S. News and World Report recently ranking UMGC #1 in the number of transfer students accepted.
Several marquee programs at UMGC contribute to this success, including the university’s popular Maryland Completion Scholarship, available to eligible graduates of Maryland community colleges. Recipients can transfer seamlessly to UMGC and complete a bachelor’s degree for an additional $12,000 or less, well below the typical cost of in-state tuition. Since spring 2014, more than 13,400 Maryland Completion Scholarships have been awarded, and 6,230 recipients have already completed a UMGC credential.
Similarly, the innovative Prince George’s 3D Scholars program— which partners UMGC with Prince George’s Community College and Prince George County Public Schools—allows high-performing high school students to earn community college credit prior to graduation and ultimately complete a four-year degree from UMGC for $10,000 or less. Those who qualify for Pell Grants can effectively graduate debt free.
Overall, undergraduates who earn a degree leave the university owing an average of $22,500, well below the national average of $37,000.
This is predictable. Currently, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics estimates college tuition and fees alone at $9,400 per year for in-state students attending a four-year public institution—and a startling $37,600 per year for those attending private, nonprofit institutions. Room and board further inflate those figures.
UMGC’s embrace of open educational resources (OERs)—available at no additional cost to students—translates into further savings, as The Education Data Initiative estimates that students at other schools spend $1,230 each year on books and supplies.
Given the modest levels of state funding that UMGC receives, the return on investment for the state is remarkable.
When it first became an independent institution, UMGC received no state funding at all, and though appropriations have increased over time—along with its prominence in the higher education landscape—the university still receives less than 11 percent of its current unrestricted operating revenue, or some $44 million annually, from the state.
Against this backdrop, it would be hard to overstate UMGCʼs impact on the Maryland economy. Not only do UMGC alumni hold leadership positions in business, government, healthcare, and education, but some 900 university employees and more than 90,000 alumni call Maryland home, with the ranks of alumni increasing steadily each year.
Based on recent U.S. Census Bureau figures for state and local per capita revenue, those alumni alone can be expected to contribute more than $1 billion in general revenue to Maryland annually, including some $236 million in income tax and $153 million in property tax.
In reality—because those figures are averaged across the population, while most alumni hold at least one bachelor’s degree—they are likely much higher. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures indicate that an employee with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn almost $400 more per week—an additional $20,000 each year—than one with some college and no degree, and $461 more per week than a colleague with only a high school diploma.
This impact hasn’t been lost on state legislators. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan—who issued a proclamation declaring March 10, 2022, as a special day to honor the university’s 75th anniversary—sent a message of congratulations prior to UMGC President Gregory Fowlerʼs inauguration.
“For 75 years, UMGC has served the people of Maryland and its community with a mission of bringing the dream of higher education within reach to tens of thousands of students. And with President Fowler at the helm, I have no doubt that UMGC will continue to be a shining example of all that Maryland’s world-class university system has to offer.”